Are your websites too slow?

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July 10, 2015
Are your websites too slow?.
Once upon a time, Tim Berners-Lee and a few other very smart people made the Web. They looked upon what they had made, and saw that it was okay; but they would fix it up later. They never got around to it. On that day was born an information network so vast, so all-encompassing, that we often forget that most of the world doesn’t actually have access to it. At least, relatively few of us have high-speed, twenty-four-seven Internet access. It’s not quite as pervasive as we might imagine. [pullquote]high-speed, twenty-four-seven Internet access [is] not quite as pervasive as we might imagine[/pullquote] I got to experience, well… not the infancy of the Internet, but its “terrible twos”. The 56k modem, in all of its static-y, phone-line-blocking glory was the way I played Flash games on the Disney and Cartoon Network sites. Those were good times, even if I did have to wait half an hour for the games to load. As I got into web design as a profession, I did what every new web designer does: I learned how to make my sites “fancy”. I added animated slide-shows, learned the ways of jQuery, used drop-down navigation, accordion menus, accordion content, and one time, even page transitions. Then Facebook said they wanted to load my articles without loading the rest of my site… …Facebook only knows who I am in the sense that I’ve given them far too much information about myself. But this is a thing that’s happening, and I don’t blame Facebook for doing it. Our websites load slow, these days.

What are you talking about?

Yes, yes, our Internet speeds are faster than ever, in Korea, or if you’re lucky enough to have Google Fiber. 4G is amazing, too. We can deliver information like nobody’s business, and that is, indirectly, part of the problem. [pullquote]That parallax effect can’t weigh too much. Can it?[/pullquote] After all, if we can deliver the data faster, why not deliver more of it? That parallax effect can’t weigh too much. Can it? This discussion isn’t anything new. People have been saying for years that it’s silly to throw more and more digital weight into our websites, and they’ve been right all along. But now we’re starting to see someone try to do something about it, and the solution has dangerous repercussions. (Do you want Facebook to deliver all content? I don't. They know too much as it is.) Now let’s be clear about something: I’m not talking about web apps. Web apps are a whole other story. This is about the websites we use to deliver our content, our news articles, our portfolios, and our sales pitches. Too many of them are too big, too bulky, and too slow. Don’t believe me? Think back. How many websites have you included jQuery on because you needed to animate one thing? Don’t forget all of the WordPress websites. They come with jQuery by default. Better yet, don’t take my word for it. Head over and look at the results of this study. The average page served to mobile devices is over one megabyte in size, and the overall average for every device is around two. Keep in mind, that means many are bigger. [pullquote]we have access to the single most important information resource in the world; and we don’t want to wait more than a second for that information[/pullquote] This may not be a big deal for anyone who actually gets at least 10MB per second, and is close to the originating server, isn’t downloading anything else, or Skyping with a friend, and isn’t on a bad mobile network. For anyone else, however, yeah, it’s a big deal. See, here’s the thing about people: we have access to the single most important information resource in the world; and we don’t want to wait more than a second for that information to come to us. Does that seem a bit petulant? Yeah, but it’s not going to change. Time, after all, is our most valuable resource.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

These are only a few of the possible reasons:

People will use libraries and frameworks for every little thing

Sometimes, people are just doing things “the easy way” and rapidly coding something up, just to get it done. I get it. I truly understand the appeal. But much of the time, we probably don’t use half of what’s in those massive frameworks, and so we build sites that are too heavy. The other part of the problem is that frameworks are part of programming and front-end curriculums now. In some places, they don’t teach newbies JavaScript, they teach jQuery. Not Ruby or Python, but Rails and Django. Don’t get me started on the number of people who barely know what HTML and CSS are who ask, “Should I learn Bootstrap?”

Pre-made themes

Those Wordpress themes that have kitchen sinks? Yeah, those are some of the worst offenders. The people who buy them won’t use half of the features they offer, but often everything still gets loaded, just in case. The same is true of themes for other CMSs, of course.

Massive images

Big images sell more. That much is certain. But a lot of those big images aren’t implemented responsively, at least not yet. Worse, some are barely even compressed. Go back and look at the stats. The images are over half the problem.

People don’t think it matters

Not everyone has 4G. Not everyone even has broadband at home. Hell, much has been made of the fact that some two million people still use AOL’s dial-up service in the USA. That’s two million people hearing that delightful dial-up tone whenever they want to access the World Wide Web; and let me tell you, massive numbers of websites simply won’t work for them. When you’ve got the best, it’s very very easy to forget that not everyone else has it too.

Fix it

I’m not saying the whole Web has to be plain. Just that it has to load faster. Ask yourself if that parallax effect that needs a preloader will actually enhance the user experience. (Hint: it won't.) Featured image, slow connection image via Shutterstock.

Ezequiel Bruni

Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he’s not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy.

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